Temptations

It took me a long time to learn what the temptations of the devil are about in Luke 4. Remember when the devil tempts Jesus after he has fasted in the desert for 40 days, just after he has been baptized? The devil’s first temptation is for Jesus to turn stones into bread. Next, the devil invites Jesus to rule all the nations in the world. Finally, the devil asks Jesus to throw himself off the temple wall and let God’s angels rescue him. 

 

I mean, what’s wrong with Jesus turning stones into bread and feeding those who starve? Why should Jesus not rule all the lands of the world and institute justice and mercy for all? Why should Jesus not throw himself off the temple parapet and show the devil once and for all that he is God’s son with all God’s might? Wouldn’t all of those things be good?

Clearly not. So why would those not be good things?

After decades of political activism, it dawned on me that the temptations have one thing in common: The devil’s temptation is to substitute one powerful person or system with another. The changes Jesus could bring about in the devil’s scenario would be imposed in one act – just like magic! The devil tempts Jesus by asking him to become the new boss. And that is often the temptation that those of us engaged in working for justice are given. We are tempted by the vision of getting enough power to impose our agenda – God’s agenda of compassion for the poor – and make things right, once and for all.

 

But Jesus said “no thanks”. He said “no thanks” to a change that wouldn’t involve a change of people’s hearts. He declined the opportunity to impose a new agenda from above that would simply force people to obey a new power. Jesus did not want to become a new dominator with a new and improved agenda, The Jesus Agenda.

 

In Luke 4, I think God is trying to tell me something about my efforts to ensure justice and mercy for all in this land and in the whole world. Jesus doesn’t want me to win a great victory over the unjust power-people and triumphantly impose The Jesus Agenda. Jesus is asking me to open myself to being loved and transformed. He wants my words and actions to be such that they prepare the way for others to open themselves to God’s love and transformation.

 

Query for prayerful consideration:

In my pursuit of justice and mercy for all, do my words and actions invite others to open themselves to God’s life-changing love? 

Whence Cometh My Hope?

For about a week now I have tried to write about where we find hope in the midst of complex problems in which we are complicit, but I felt I was blocked at every turn. How hard can it be to write about God as the source of our hope?! Yet as hard and prayerfully as I tried, my sentences seemed either too dry or too sappy, too  simplistic or too convoluted. Finally I discovered that if what I write is to honor the comlexity of the issue, I must come at hope in a less direct way. Gentle reader, bear with me.

The founder of Quakerism, George Fox, often touched peoples’ hearts and brought them into his new religious movement after saying something like this: “The prophets says this… The Apostles say that…. But what canst thou say? Is it inwardly from God?”

George wanted women and men to examine how it was that they knew God. Did their knowledge come from what the prophets and apostles were recorded as saying in the Bible? Or did it come from an inward encounter with God’s Spirit, just as the writers of the Bible encountered God personally as they wrote?

Without diminishing the importance of the Bible as the inspired words of God, George didn’t want people to read the Bible or listen to a priest instead of going into worship and talking to God directly. That’s why George encouraged people to listen, believing that God would speak – without intermediary – straight into a person’s heart, mind, and soul.

Finding hope in troubled times is something I could write about. I could tell you inspiring and true stories about hope from my own life and others’. I could tell you stories of real-life resurrection when God brought new life out of darkness. If I did, gentle reader, you would be receiving words of hope second or even third hand. Instead, you could hear words of hope from God’s own mouth! 

Query for prayerful consideration:

God, show me hope.

50 Million Christians Protesting in the Streets

A few days ago I asked why there aren’t 50 million Christians protesting in the streets here in the USA (see 10/4 entry). Indeed, why am I not out in the streets protesting against war and increasing poverty?

The question has political, practical and spiritual dimensions, and here is my spiritual answer: 

I have seen the enemy against whom God would have me direct my protest, and the enemy is me. How do I protest against myself?

I believe it is true, as John Woolman said, that my possessions are “seeds of war” (see 10/6 entry). More accurately, perhaps, it is my desire for convenience and financial security that constitute the “seeds of war”. Like most people, I want inexpensive appliances and equipment for family, home and office, and I want to set a little money aside for college for my daughters and for retirement. As do most of us.

My family’s income depends directly and indirectly on how well the state of Washington is doing. Washington’s economy depends on Boeing. Boeing does best during times of war. In fact, the US economy does best when the military-industrial sector is thriving, as it does in times of war.

My Christian self hungers for peace. I plant the seeds of peace as I read, talk, organize, and pray about peace. But try as I might, my economic self keeps planting seeds of war.

Lord, have mercy.

Query for prayerful consideration:

As I consider the complexities and complicities of war and poverty, what are my sources of hope?

Born to Be Wild

A while back my daughters, M and A, listened to “Born to Be Wild” in the car. The song is a 60s tune about rebellion against authority, heading off for adventure, and seeking meaning in adventure. Well, M identified with it completely. She says it is her song, she says she was born to be wild. One day she turned to her sister and said somewhat condescendingly, “I was born to be wild, but I don’t think you were, A!” A thought about it for a second, and then she said quietly and joyfully “No, I was born to love!”

Query for prayerful consideration:

Do I truly live out of the knowledge that I was born to love? And born to be wild?

Friendly Fashion Faux-Pas

John Woolman, revered today as one of the earliest Quaker opponents to slavery in the USA, was considered quite the fashion oddball in his time. He dressed in homespun white wool clothes, whether the wool was weighed down by cold rain or made him sweat in summer heat. Why did he not dress in plain gray cotton clothes, like most other Quakers did at the time?

John believed that neither cotton nor dyes would be available without slave labor and that, if he bought dyed cotton, he would be supporting slavery. He would both be legitimizing slavery and paying slave owners and traders to continue their practices.  

Though many other Quakers soon joined John’s opposition to slavery and The Religious Society of Friends threw its weight into abolition, few Quakers ever adopted John’s attire.

One of John Woolman’s most famous statements was that we should look to our possessions for the seeds of war.

Query for prayerful consideration:

Are there ways in which my possessions are “seeds of war”?

Pray _____ Protest

Last week more than 20,000 Buddhist monks filled the streets of Rangoon to protest Myanmar’s oppression of its own people. Monks led the way, and I can only assume they felt it was their religious duty to speak out. I can only assume that they saw it as a spiritual necessity, as opposed to taking sides in a divisive political battle. 

I muse: “Why aren’t there 50 million Christians filling the streets in the USA protesting against policies that are making life harder for regular wage earners here?” Healthcare and housing costs continue to rise faster than wages, and more and more public money goes to pay for weapons, ammunition, and soldiers. 

So, if I were to fill in the blank in my headline, which would it be? Pray and protest? Pray or protest? Pray, don’t protest?

Query for prayerful consideration: 

Does my Christian faith require me to protest increasing poverty? 

  

The Jesus Prayer

I have found myself using a prayer a lot these days that I never thought I would ever use. I just didn’t like its theology.

However, this year I have become much more involved in social justice activities and I am frequently filled with what I like to think of as righteous anger. Whereas anger can be a good thing in terms of drawing my attention to an injustice, it’s not a good place from which to act against injustice.

So I use this prayer, not necessarily because I agree with its theology, but because it is good for me to pray it: “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, a sinner.” I pray it with the 52 beads of my Earth Rosary. After repeating the Jesus Prayer 52 times, I have usually sunk back into that ocean of Light and Love from which I can act.